This Sunday, my husband and I begin co-leading a small group at our church with another couple. As I was considering my role in this group, I was reminded of a time our church in Houston served me well.
My husband, who is working on a PhD, was preparing to take his comprehensive exams before moving on to his dissertation. At the time, our son was still a newborn and our daughter had not yet turned two. Our house was not exactly conducive to studying, so we booked him a hotel room to give him a quiet place to study for a couple of days.
I don’t remember telling anyone that he would be out of the house for a couple of nights. I’m sure we mentioned in passing—our small group and pastor knew he had those exams coming up. But him being at a hotel down the road for a couple of nights wasn’t a big deal, so it’s not like we made a point to communicate the situation.
Regardless, one of the leaders at our church found out that I was at home with two babies by myself and that night I got an email with a Doordash gift card. My church sought to meet a practical need for a busy mom.
Qualities of Servant Leaders
I don’t think it was a coincidence that, as we enter into a leadership role ourselves, I was reminded of how my former church served me so well. I believe this was the Holy Spirit nudging me towards a posture of servant leadership. As I considered the implications of this reminder, I have thought about qualities I have observed in other servant leaders. I have been fortunate to know many good examples. These are some of the qualities I seek to emulate.
This quality is one I consider most important and increasingly most needed among leaders. Servant leaders don’t try to draw attention to their good deeds, and often their service goes unnoticed. When praised, they often deflect, humbly giving credit to others or downplaying their acts of service. Their humility is genuine, not a performance intended to reap even more praise from others.
Though he’d be embarrassed for me to say so and though some may say I’m just biased, my husband is one of the best servant leaders I know. There was a time that we participated in an event together—he was one of the leaders and I was working behind the scenes. At the end of it, everyone dispersed to the next thing on their agendas while my team began breaking down the stage and cleaning up.
I assumed my husband had gone on to another meeting—he had a busy schedule that day—but at one point I turned around and saw him helping break down backdrops on the stage. He was the only leader who stayed behind to help us clean up. He had not been asked to help, nor was there any expectation of his help, but there he was quietly serving alongside my coworkers.
This is not to disparage those who did leave. Most, if not all of them, did have other responsibilities following the event. This is just one example of the miriad of ways I’ve seen my husband and others serve those they lead. Though their positions frequently place them front-and-center, they are just as content to fade into the background with the rest of us.
Generous with Their Time
When I think of generosity, it is far easier for me to be generous with my money than with my time. Yet so many of the leaders I know are generous with their time. And, so often, time is what people need—even more than money.
I know a busy leader who consistently sacrifices his time for others—even if it means doing other tasks at odd hours and multitasking when it’s inconvenient. As an extremely task-oriented person, it has been quite the learning experience to observe how he prioritizes people over tasks. While some may say that he does not have enough boundaries, he would say that being available to and serving people is his most important “task.” Though he has much on his plate, he is always available to be interrupted by a person who needs his counsel, encouragement, and support.
For those of us who believe we are busy beyond belief and are task-oriented to a fault, being generous with our time may be the hardest challenge of all. This quality is an uphill battle, yet learning to prioritize people over tasks is always going to be a worthy pursuit.
One of my favorite personality tests I have taken in recent years is called the “Predictable Success Leadership Styles Quiz.” You can read more about it if you’re interested, but the real kicker with this test is (for me at least) a score called the “synergist.” The synergist leader is primarily people-focused. has a high level of emotional intelligence. They are aware of how others operate. They altar their leadership style to best equip those on their team for success. They work to build harmony among members of their team. In short, the synergist leader is primarily concerned about the well-being of those he or she leads.
I’ve had the great fortune of working for several bosses who would likely score high on the synergist scale. When I have been stressed about a project, they have sought first to ease my anxiety instead of emphasizing the gravity of the project—which has helped me work more efficiently and effectively on the project in question. When I have made mistakes, they have gone to bat for me even if it made them look bad in the process. They hold me accountable, but have done so without throwing me under the bus. When there has been conflict on a team, they have sought to resolve it rather than ignore or exacerbate it.
As I mentioned above, I am hyper-task-oriented. (If you’ve taken the quiz linked above, I score highest on the Operator type.) Synergy is not one of my strengths, which is why I am grateful to have many good examples of it in my own life and why I aim to improve on this quality.
Our Perfect Example
There are many other qualities of servant leaders and you can find several resources about servant leadership. But when I think about the qualities I have observed in servant leaders, these are the three that stand out the most to me. These qualities are the ones I most hope to demonstrate in any leadership opportunity the Lord may give me.
It all may be summed up in Philippians 2, which has become a passage I’ve meditated on for several years as the Lord has revealed some sinful shortcomings in how I relate to others.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Though we may encounter many great examples of servant leaders, our goal should always be to imitate Christ above all. Christ, who washed His disciples disgusting feet, compels us to humbly serve others regardless of our official roles or titles. He gives us the sustaining grace we need for each day, which allows us to pour ourselves out for the sake of those we lead.
Photo by Tobias Mrzyk on Unsplash